Born in 1925 in Poland, of Jewish descent, Bauman was forced by the rise of Nazism to leave his homeland in 1939. He was educated in Soviet Russia, fought with the Red Army against the Germans during the Second World War and emigrated to the West in 1968 after being sacked from the University of Warsaw for criticism of the regime. He became Professor of Sociology at Leeds University in 1971 and is now an Emeritus Professor both at Leeds and, since the collapse of communism, at the University of Warsaw. A prolific writer, Bauman has been one of the most influential and interesting contributors to an understanding of the nature of contemporary society and the transition from modernity to postmodernity.
In a complex, globalized world of radical cultural pluralization Bauman champions an interpretative approach to the social sciences against the judging, legislative imperative of modernism (see Legislators and Interpreters, 1987). His dissection of the lethal brew of the modernist ideology of social engineering with the bureaucratic and political capability to pursue it won the Amalfi prize for Modernity and the Holocaust (1989). In the age of seductive consumerism, rapid technological change, complexity, contingency and ambiguity that he labels Liquid Modernity (2000) he believes that the ethical codes inherited from a less frenetic modernity cannot provide effective social norms, and in books such as Postmodern Ethics (1993) he argues for a re-discovery of a deeper moral impulse shorn of rigid ethical codes. From Modernity and Ambivalence (1991) to Identity (2004)—where the tension is between the double-edged promises of rampant individualization and the limiting commitments of ‘the dreamt-of warm and solidary community’—Bauman has foregrounded the many incarnations of ambivalence that contemporary consciousness is condemned to live with.
Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies — Sociology.